Have drones changed the way we fight wars?
“Unquestionably, the increase in drone attacks I think has really dehumanised killing, historically wars have been fought where both sides accept some level of risk, whether one of flying an aircraft, or of combat on the ground, whereas with unmanned drones operated from thousand of miles away, in complete safety, the only people who are at risk are the people on the ground, the targets. …on the rare occasion you see footage from inside the places where these drones are operated, it almost comes across, in my mind anyway, like these people are playing a computer game. …the computerisation and detachment from the battle scene is a real danger of modern warfare.”
Supporters of drone warfare argue that although there may be ‘collateral damage,’ it is still better to use drones than to conduct conventional warfare where there may be tens of thousands of civilian deaths. However when we are talking about the use of drones, as Russell Whiting argues, “we are not talking about the elimination of a conventional conflict, the Americans have used drones quite a lot in the Afghan/Pakistan borders, in the rival regions, there’s no suggestion that non-use of drones there would lead to a conventional conflict. In Syria, there have been a number of drone strikes, both by the UK and the US, and again, this is not a country with which we are engaged in conventional conflict. We are talking about the targeting of individuals rather than talking about defeating armies in the conventional sense,…basically it allows governments to carry out secret wars and avoid the kind of scrutiny that a government would usually have to be exposed to, to go to war.”
“There seems to very little oversight. There are a couple of organisations like Drone Wars UK and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism site, which do the best that they can to monitor these situations, but to return to the tribal region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, these are areas where civil society has basically broken down, there is no support network from the ground, there is no infrastructure to support the civilians on the ground who are injured, let alone report the incident back though the United Nations or whatever the equivalent would be for drones,” Russell said.
As far as who decides who gets killed, the British government denies that there is a list of people who are going to be killed. “…the government is not willing to reveal to parliament the processes involved when these decisions are made. In the States, this is a highly secretive operation, although every level of American warfare now seems to include drone attacks. From the past we have seen that these are things that the president himself would need to authorise.”
There is some hope that the British Labour Party will take drones on in the sense of raising awareness of the killing of British citizens and others, as these are brought into the public domain, and that public opinion may change. However the technology itself is developing quickly. The new drones that the US is developing, called ‘intelligent drones,’ won’t even need to be operated by people sitting thousands of miles away. They will be able to detect targets themselves, in true Terminator style. “The Pentagon said last week, that the future of war is machine to machine. Unfortunately, even with this kind of warfare one cannot avoid human casualties,” Russell said.